CROWE, JOSIAS, commodore of the Newfoundland. convoy, 1711; d. 21 Sept. 1714.
The first mention we have of Crowe is as captain of the St Paul in 1691. He held many subsequent commands during the French wars. In 1695 he convoyed the American merchant fleet, and in 1701 served the New England station, thus gaining some experience of the working of English colonial administration.
In 1711 Crowe was appointed commodore of the annual convoy to Newfoundland. He was instructed to report on French activities, on the fishery, the inhabitants, and the fishing vessels, and was required to enforce the provisions of the Newfoundland Act of 1699. When he inquired precisely what penalties he was authorized to inflict, he caused a flurry in the administrative dovecots and was finally told only to use “the most effectual method . . . for remedying several irregularities that stil continue to be practis’d in those parts.”
Crowe was on station at St John’s from August to October, and took his duties seriously. He attempted in his proclamation of 28 August to check drunkenness by prohibiting the sale of drink to any but strangers on “the Sabbath day,” and by providing fines for drunken behaviour, though it was far from clear who would enforce these penalties. The proclamation must have been printed or produced in multiple form, since a copy was to be put up in every tavern.
Commodores, in carrying out their somewhat loosely defined duties, normally consulted fishing captains and leading inhabitants. Crowe did so rather more publicly and elaborately than usual. He assembled an informal body composed of “the commanders of merchant ships, merchants, and chief inhabitants,” and attempted to work out “rules and orders” for the improvement of local conditions. His decisions were then promulgated under 16 heads. These are known as “Crowe’s Laws” but they are less than a code and are of a dubious legislative character. A number were judicial or quasi-judicial decisions in disputes between inhabitants, or between inhabitants and visiting fishermen. Drunken excess was again denounced; servants were to be punished if they attempted to serve two masters. The 1699 act was to be enforced by dispossessing inhabitants who had occupied fishing-rooms held by fishing vessels at any time since 1685, and by punishing those who, during winter, interfered with stages, flakes, and cook-rooms belonging to the annual fishing ships. A voluntary levy of fish was to be raised for the pastor, Reverend Jacob Rice. John Collins, a leading inhabitant of St John’s, was confirmed as “deputy governor” in military affairs; rules were laid down for the use of tenements within the fort as places of refuge, there being still no regular garrison. Seamen were to patrol at night to guard against French spies. All inhabitants were to be in winter quarters by 1 October and were not to leave without the permission of the local governors, nine of whom, including Collins, were given charge of the principal settlements and placed at the head of the local militia. Many of these provisions had been instituted between 1708 and 1710 to deal with wartime emergencies. Though Crowe was more thorough than some commodores and conducted his activities with more publicity and formality than most, historians like Prowse who regarded “Crowe’s Laws” as foreshadowing some kind of representative government were mistaken.
Crowe’s suggestions for reform were sensible if not original. A governor resident all the year round, one “impowered to put the laws in execution,” was essential for the health of the colony. Crowe took a sensible line too on the many infractions of the trade restrictions. He thought few of these infractions were serious, and some it was undesirable to remedy. New England shipping, for example, was responsible for many breaches, but it brought essential provisions to the island. His report, dated 31 October, was fuller and more critical than usual, but otherwise it followed traditional lines.
Sir Nicholas Trevanion, his successor as commodore, in 1712, followed his procedure almost to the letter but subsequent convoy captains did not find so much publicity and ceremony necessary.
The Fulham papers in the Lambeth palace library, ed. W. W. Manross (Oxford, 1965), 3. PRO, B. T. Journal, 1708/9–1714/15; CSP, Col., 1701, 1710–11, 1711–12, 1712–14. Charnock, Biographia navalis, II. M. A. Field, “The development of government in Newfoundland, 1638–1713,” unpublished m.a. thesis, University of London, 1924. Prowse, History of Nfld. Rogers, Newfoundland.